Thank God for Celery
"The more bitter and fragrant leaves can be used to make a gorgeous pesto."
Ok, I know from the title alone that this is probably going to be the most controversial article I ever write, and I can hear a good portion of you writhing in disgust at the mere mention of the world’s most partisan vegetable.
For a reason unbeknownst to me (and the 63.9% of others who have no aversion to apium graveolens, a number sourced from a no-doubt scientifically rigorous piece of research from japantoday.com), celery can invoke some of the most hostile opinions that it’s possible to have of a vegetable, so I’m aware that I may be alienating a number of my readership here.
However, so be it. Celery is one of the most important elements of our culinary landscape, and for good reason. Our furrowed friend has been cultivated for at least since the classical era, and celery leaves were even found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Indeed, the word ‘celery’ dates back to the ancient greek selinon, which is thought to have referred to both celery as we understand it today as well as parsley, both of which come from the family Apiaceae (as do carrots, bizarrely enough).
The medicinal benefits of celery were appreciated, like many foods we take for granted today, before its gastronomic ones. As early as 850BC the plant was used to treat colds and digestive ailments, and there is some evidence that the chemicals in celery oil may be beneficial in lowering blood pressure.
However, the modern use of celery as a vegetable was only popularised in the 17th century, when varieties in northern Europe were grown; domestication and cooler conditions meant that varieties could be grown with much milder and less bitter flavours. The 18th century saw the definition of mirepoix, although the diced celery, onion and carrot mixture itself probably goes back further; nowadays, of course, mirepoix is ubiquitous in French cooking and beyond, for use in all manner of stocks, soups, stews and sauces.
The beauty of celery is in the versatility of its constituent parts. Naturally, the fleshy stalks are good for salads, soups, and as an aromatic, but the more bitter and fragrant leaves can be used to make a gorgeous pesto. Celery salt – best friend of the quail’s egg and invaluable component of a good Bloody Mary – is made from ground celery seeds, and of course, the root – better known as celeriac, the trendy root vegetable du jour – brings that delicious earthy aroma to mash, casseroles, and classic French remoulades and velouté.
Fast-forward to the modern era and celery is perhaps more popular now than it’s ever been, with chefs using each part of the vegetable in more creative and outlandish ways. Why not try using celery in a way you might not have thought of before: below you will find a gorgeous recipe for a fantastically aromatic celery rosti with poached egg – the perfect brunch.
Celery Rosti with Coriander and Poached Egg
Originally a Swedish dish, this celery rosti has been spiced up with some coriander and sweet chilli powder, providing a tasty new take on this traditional recipe.
4 sticks of celery, cut into very fine strips
1 bunch of coriander, chopped
1 large potato, peeled and grated
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Sweet chilli sauce
½ tsp chilli powder
Olive oil for frying
4 slices of goats cheese 1cm thick
Dash of vinegar
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.
Mix the celery, coriander and grated potato together. Season and add a few drops of chilli sauce and the chilli powder.
Divide the mixture into 4 and shape into patties. Fry in the oil in a shallow pan turning over once they have set to lightly brown on both sides – about 5-6 minutes.
Transfer the rosti to a lightly oiled baking tray and place in the oven for 15 minutes to finish off the cooking.
Place a slice of cheese on top of each rosti and put under a hot grill until lightly browned.
Meanwhile poach the eggs in deep simmering water with a little vinegar for 3-4 minutes.
Place the rosti on plates, add the poached egg on top and drizzle with the chilli sauce. Serve with a green salad and baby new potatoes.
Recipe courtesy of lovecelery.co.uk